Memorial Day was kind of a big deal for us when I was growing up. I was raised by my paternal grandparents, and every year my grandmother would get flowers to put on the graves of our family members who’d served in the military (you remember the old grave saddles, at least that’s what my grandmother called them? Yeah, that’s what we would put on family members’ graves every year…the veterans on Memorial Day, and then on other family members’ graves on their birthdays I believe). My grandfather had been in the US Army during World War II, and was discharged in 1946. He met my grandmother at some point after that, they were both working in the same office in Indianapolis (Indy to us Hoosiers), and were married in October 1948; my aunt Linda was born in October 1949. My grandmother’s brother Darious was on board the USS Serpens when it blew up at Guadalcanal during World War II. His remains, along with the remains of 157 other people, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and the monument marking the spot has all 158 names listed on it. My grandmother also had two uncles who served, the last war either of them was in was the Korean War. They both died in their 70s I believe, and have markers stating their military service .
On my mom’s side, her brother served in the US Navy during the Vietnam War, and had to be brought home when she was killed in a car wreck (I can’t really call it an “accident,” even though it wasn’t deliberate on the other driver’s part, because the other driver was drunk at the time that he hit the car that Mom, her friend Arlene, and I were in…turns out the drunk driver was another good friend of my parents) so he could attend her funeral. As I was a baby at the time, and also in the hospital for at least a month afterward (the first week I was on the critical list), I don’t remember any of it, I only know what I’ve read in the papers and heard from other family members. My dad had a brother who was (briefly) in the US Marines during Vietnam, and I had a cousin who served in the US Army and another in the US Marines…you could say military service is important to our family. So of course I had to go against family tradition and told all four branches who kept bugging me throughout my junior year of high school what they could do with all their recruitment efforts (for some reason the Coast Guard was the only branch not actively trying to recruit me at the time).
Because of my grandfather’s service, my grandmother and I were both members of the American Legion Auxiliary (my grandfather was a member of the American Legion), and every year I would help my grandmother give out poppies, and would proudly wear mine till it literally fell apart. The last several years I haven’t even seen a poppy, I don’t even know if they still give them out anymore. I let my Auxiliary membership lapse after I became an adult, I really didn’t have the money to pay the dues myself and my grandmother stopped doing it for me, so if I wanted to renew it I would probably have to go through the process all over again at this point, especially since I now live in a different town (although the same county) and the people at the local Legion don’t know me or any of my family. I wouldn’t even know how to go about it, really, except I think you have to be able to show some kind of proof that a member of your family has served in the military.
Does anyone have any Memorial Day memories from growing up? One other thing I remember from growing up: My grandmother often referred to the day as Decoration Day, its original name. (The name “Memorial Day” wasn’t actually used until 1882, and wasn’t made official until 1967.) If you don’t know how the day got started, you should really look it up. It all came about because of a mother’s love. Now the day’s all about cookouts and the like, but I think it’s important to remember just why we’re celebrating (other than an excuse for a three-day weekend).